After my return from the trip to Montenegro and Croatia, it was time to prepare for winter swimming. I was planning to swim through this winter without the wetsuit or as they say in this part of the world skins. My plan was simple, keep swimming in the Scottish lochs in skins while the water temperature continued its slide into winter. I had made some progress the previous winter, but this year I wanted to keep the wetsuit in the cupboard as the temperatures dropped.
It was a shock to return from the warm waters of the Adriatic to the 12c of Loch Ard in early October. But within a couple of weeks, the water had dropped to 10c in Loch Lubnaig. My strategy was to stay in as long as possible with successful half hour swims in 12c water, and by the end of October 10c water. Sure it was never easy to get in at those temperatures, but it was a matter of training and acclimatisation of the body. I learnt to observe how my body reacted to the cold water. Firstly I would get short of breath, but I would swim slowly until it returned to normal. This would take a couple of minutes.
Then as I swam, I would feel my extremities get colder, first my toes, then my fingers, then my legs. But if I kept swimming I would ward off the cold as my skin cooled. I would swim until the point where I felt my muscles were not working properly. At that point I would scan my body and see how cold it was. If it was ok I would swim for another couple of minutes (a watch is vital as a safety device), but would head closer to shore. Then I would head to the edge and get out, trying valiantly to stand on feet that just would not respond to the messages my brain would be sending them.
Into November, and as the nights drew in, and the water temperature dropped still further, down to 9c, then 8c, then 7c as the first snow of the season dusted the hills. Some days I would only stay in the water for 20 minutes as I battled to swim a reasonable distance.
As the festive season came, the water temperature dropped further, down to 6c, then 5c then 4c, and on the cold frosty mornings, it was a struggle to swim when your back was getting cold. But at this time of year it is often warmer in than out. I would never swim alone, but would ensure others were close by. Our favourite swimming spot was Luss on Loch Lomond as at this time of year there were no boats around, and we had the long beach to our selves. It was possible to do a loop down to the pier (smile for the tourists and their cameras as you swim past), and back up to the point, a distance of 600m or so. Do that twice and it was a 1000 metres.
Gingerly get out, and get dressed as quickly as the frozen fingers let you. Always a good idea to lay out your clothes beforehand in the car. Have a warm drink from a flask, something to eat, and then once you feel capable, get in the car to drive to the local establishment for an open fire and more hot drinks.
I really enjoyed watching the seasons pass over the autumn, as the leaves changed colour before dropping onto the ground in huge blankets. over a few months you are very conscious of the drift from autumn into winter.
It was not all loch swimming as I also had the opportunity to swim in a 25m outdoor pool at New Cumnock in mid December. This pool which was recently renovated was open for a night swim, and of course the heat was not on. There had been a light dusting of snow that day, and it was so much fun to swim in the pool in skins with the stars above, and snow on the edge of the pool, The best part was standing under a nice warm outdoor shower after the swim.
By the end of December, I was swimming 1km regularly in around 25 minutes or so. Sure this was slower than I would do the same distance in a pool, but that was because my muscles were cold, and it was also fresh water. My aim was to swim up to 1200m each time I swam, but I knew that some days were easier than others. But when the vistas are as stunning as these it was easy to get distracted.
Hardy men, you are. I remember, from my childhood, the L-Street Brownies, of Boston, who spent each President’s Day (mid-February) in the ocean.